Returning to work: things to consider

Returning to work after having a baby is a deeply personal decision, which is often complicated by not only your desire to do the best thing for your baby, but access to childcare and your family finances.

My daughter is now 10. In fact, she’s almost 11 and she’d be annoyed if I didn’t include that. But I still remember the first time I returned to work after becoming a new mum, at the tender age of 23. I’ll pause while you do the math and work out how old I am… 

I still had broken nights with a baby who struggled to sleep, and a tendency to cry at almost everything. But I desperately wanted to be back in the office, earn some money for our family, and have a conversation with someone about something other than my lack of sleep and tendency to cry. 
My boss was kind enough to ignore my tears, and buy me coffee to help overcome the extreme tiredness. He also helped me to work out a new schedule so I could work part time, and some of that from home. 
We found day-care easily, and I was able to work part time until my daughter was well and truly settled in primary school. 
As far as returning to the workforce after having a baby goes, I know I was one of the lucky ones. According to research conducted by the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) in the UK, one of the biggest logistical concern parents face when returning to the workforce after having a baby, is finding appropriate childcare and trying to find some sort of work life balance. 
Of course, just because all these practical things fell into place relatively easily for me, didn’t mean it wasn’t a hugely emotional decision, and that the mummy guilt wasn’t overwhelming at times. And in fact, if I’m honest, it still is. 
That battle to find balance between what is the right thing for your child, and pretty much everything else, is a compromise that’s fairly universal when it comes to parenting – even if what falls into the ‘pretty much everything else’ bucket changes family to family.
It’s probably no surprise then that the same report from NCT showed that mums often struggle to put their own needs first with decisions around returning to work. 
Instead, family finances were named as being the primary motivator of returning to work (and leaving their baby the biggest barrier), while other things, like keeping up with your own professional development or social interactions with colleagues were way down the list of priorities for most. 
With all this in mind, what are some of the things you can do to make that decision over returning to work a bit easier? 
woman on couch with laptop and baby
  1. Have all the information. Making decisions without all the information is hard. If not impossible. Don’t be afraid to ask what your employer’s policy on returning to work is early. Find out if you’re entitled to work part time, if you can extend your parental leave and if there is a carer’s policy in place. Knowing these things well before you need them will make it easier later.
  2. If you don’t ask… As the saying goes, if you don’t ask, you’ll never know. If your work place doesn’t have defined family friendly policies, ask and see what can be arranged. And don’t forget – your partner might also have options at their workplace.
  3. Look at childcare early. It may seem silly to be looking at childcare when you’re still pregnant, but those stories of childcare shortages often aren’t exaggerated. Take the time to tour a few centres in your area, ask questions about wait lists and even if you’re not ready to enroll, you’ll at least have an understanding of what’s out there when (and if) you are ready. 
  4. It’s OK to put yourself first.  That’s it. You can do that and sometimes, you should. 
  5. Don’t compare. Remember – you know intimately what’s in your ‘pretty much everything else’ bucket, and understand what influences play into any decisions. You don’t know everybody else’s. Comparing your situation to your neighbours, your mother’s group friends, or anyone else, will lead to trouble. Only you know what is best for your family.
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